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The Making of a YI Photographer

MAR 28, 2013

Youth Insights Leader Keyana practices with a Holga camera in the Whitney Studio, March 2013. Photograph by Adena, Youth Insights Leader

Youth Insights Leader Keyana practices with a Holga camera in the Whitney Studio, March 2013. Photograph by Adena, Youth Insights Leader

When I heard that the Youth Insights Leaders would be working with photography for our collaboration with artist Fred Wilson, I was scared. I have never really used a camera other than the one on my phone. I was pretty nervous about producing two photographs that will eventually be seen by an audience in the exhibition that Leaders are having at the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. As it turned out however, we weren’t only shooting with digital cameras or phones. Carda, our program coordinator, also introduced us to an old-fashioned film camera called the Holga. Originally I had not planned to use the film camera because it felt so advanced. You have to open up the back and load the film, and then unload it without exposing it to the light. The flash has to be screwed onto the top separately, and you have to remember to advance the film in between pictures. It looked complicated and implied that a lot could go wrong. But the rest of the Leaders were excited and said they were having a cool experience using the manual cameras. If I was going to be outside my comfort zone by taking photographs to begin with, I figured I might as well try out the Holga.

Youth Insights Leaders Emiliano and Elizabeth familiarize themselves with the Holga cameras. Photograph by Adena, Youth Insights Leader
Youth Insights Leaders Emiliano and Elizabeth familiarize themselves with the Holga cameras. Photograph by Adena, Youth Insights Leader
Youth Insights Leader Niki loads new film into her camera. Photograph by Correna Cohen
Youth Insights Leader Niki loads new film into her camera. Photograph by Correna Cohen
Youth Insights Leader Hannah reviews the first set of her Holga photographs. Photograph by Correna Cohen
Youth Insights Leader Hannah reviews the first set of her Holga photographs. Photograph by Correna Cohen
Youth Insights Leader Raymond, who chose to take digital photographs, explains his picture taking process. Photograph by Correna Cohen
Youth Insights Leader Raymond, who chose to take digital photographs, explains his picture taking process. Photograph by Correna Cohen
Fisheye lenses and double exposures are some of the photographic techniques that Leaders experimented with on their Holgas. Photograph by Emiliano, Youth Insights Leader
Fisheye lenses and double exposures are some of the photographic techniques that Leaders experimented with on their Holgas. Photograph by Emiliano, Youth Insights Leader
The Holga’s pinhole camera-like technology lends itself to soft edges and light leaks. The latter effect is a funny disadvantage that photographers must work around by taping up holes and cracks in the plastic cameras. Photograph by Elizabeth, Youth Insights Leader
The Holga’s pinhole camera-like technology lends itself to soft edges and light leaks. The latter effect is a funny disadvantage that photographers must work around by taping up holes and cracks in the plastic cameras. Photograph by Elizabeth, Youth Insights Leader
Youth Insights Leader Ramsey uses a film camera to grab a shot of himself—with a digital camera. Now that’s photographic multitasking! Photograph by Ramsey, Youth Insights Leader
Youth Insights Leader Ramsey uses a film camera to grab a shot of himself—with a digital camera. Now that’s photographic multitasking! Photograph by Ramsey, Youth Insights Leader
Holga cameras are known for lending images rich, saturated color and atmosphieric quality. Here, Ramsey’s use of the camera also adds an eerie tinge to a family birthday party. Photography by Ramsey, Youth Insights Leader
Holga cameras are known for lending images rich, saturated color and atmosphieric quality. Here, Ramsey’s use of the camera also adds an eerie tinge to a family birthday party. Photography by Ramsey, Youth Insights Leader
Hannah’s double-exposure technique turns NYC into the countryside, superimposing bodega flowers so that they hide apartment buildings and seem to touch the sky. Photograph by Hannah, Youth Insights Leader
Hannah’s double-exposure technique turns NYC into the countryside, superimposing bodega flowers so that they hide apartment buildings and seem to touch the sky. Photograph by Hannah, Youth Insights Leader

I surprised myself because I really enjoyed taking photographs with the film camera, although I did have some trouble with it along the way. I chose to take my camera to the graveyard by my house, which is surprisingly sunny and would provide good light for my photographs. I made sure to turn on the flash and shoot lots of different headstones and shadows that I thought would portray the theme and title of the project, Am I as Much as Being Seen? When I finished shooting my first sixteen images in the high contrast black and white film, I was ready to move on to color. However, I was too scared to take the used film out and load the new. When I finally got over that, I ended up loading the film inside out (if that’s possible), but luckily I figured it out without ruining the film. I experimented with different settings on the camera, one of which makes the pictures square instead of rectangular. A few times I double-exposed or forgot to turn on the flash, but it was all part of the process of learning to use the camera.

Overall, using the film camera was a really fun and interesting experience. I liked that once I took the picture, there was no option for me to view it—I will have to wait and see what comes out when the film is developed! I felt more involved in every picture because I had to turn on the flash and advance the film. Every step had to be thought through. Having had the opportunity to challenge myself with the Holga, I feel more confident about using other kinds of cameras now, including digital cameras. I look forward to seeing our final photographs.

By Skye, Youth Insights Leader

This is Part Three of our ongoing series of blog posts about our project with Fred Wilson. Read more: 

Part One

Part Two